dear diary >> mud, glorious mud…

Today we woke up to sunshine, the pea green coloured sea was much calmer with a half hearted little ripple on the surface, obviously too lazy to create the forceful waves of yesterday but not sleepy enough to stay calm. When I took this picture later in the afternoon the tide was out and it had changed to this lovely deep blue.

Although it looked like it could be a promising day weatherwise and one for going out in the garden – in fact we ended up playing at weathermen all day in and out as we had one or two sudden showers.

There is plenty of tidying up to do but not everywhere as some little corners I leave for nature to take over.

I have pruning to do on mass – far too many hydrangeas and buddleias to get round and plenty of rosa rugosa along our stream bank.

DH managed another 3 metres of ditch yesterday and today – he hasn’t yet seized up and can still move this evening so I reckon he might do a bit more tomorrow and finish it.

This is part of the ditch above and the resulting mud pile below. The mud is being used to build up this part of our stream bank which is the lowest point and where the water seeps over into the garden when we have too much heavy rain – hence the temporary sandbags to the right of the picture..

We might, just might, have found a new gardener – she seems keen to come but having vehicle trouble at the moment (aren’t we all). She is a lady that has helped out here many years ago and remembers us too. Our garden requires someone in tune with the slightly wild side of gardening and know when to leave some of the wild flowers in place and when to remove some so they don’t overpower and become invasive, it is a fine balance and one I still battle with.

The daisy path looks like it will be a glorious sight this year when they come out, they have multiplied over the winter but presently they are still in slumber and I am waiting patiently for their awakening – it is one of my favourite parts of the garden.

The large rhododendron will be missed this year as it had a hard prune last year and there is rather a large gap at the entrance to the woodland walk. There are encouraging signs of new growth and maybe a little more food might encourage it to regrow faster. Whilst I have the fish, blood and bone out I will scatter handfuls along the rosa rugosa hedge that the new caravan site owner cut down and cross my fingers that some of the stumps left will reshoot.

Tomorrow I am taking part in the Scraphappy Challenge with a few other bloggers – so my post will be of a more crafty nature. x

dear diary >> a warm welcome

I am writing my posts from Scotland at the moment and as I gazed out of the caravan window this morning at the sea I am reminded of this passage from Marcel Proust –

But before all this I had drawn back my own curtains, impatient to know what Sea it was that was playing that morning by the shore, like a Nereid. For none of those Seas ever stayed with us longer than a day. On the morrow there would be another, which sometimes resembled its predecessor. But I never saw the same one twice.

After a hard night of howling winds around the caravan that kept me waking on and off I too was eager to know what the sea would be like today as it is usually an indication of what weather we might expect for the day. On drawing back the curtains it was no surprise to find it quite choppy with white frothy waves rolling up onto the shore creating a bubble bath of foam – definitely a stay inside day and quite the opposite to yesterday when, after a night of heavy rain, I opened the curtains to find a calm sea that was glinting in the morning sunshine….and I knew from this that it was going to be a good day.

And it was…..I spent the morning yesterday having a leisurely breakfast and doing a little planning – not that planning is easy at the moment – these troubled times make me hesitant to look too far ahead, so only looking to the end of March seemed practical. We don’t have TV here so any news can only be heard on the hour on the radio and the sense of the war is quite different without the pictures but no less shocking; I fear for the life of the captured Mayor of Mariupol – I fear for Zelensky and I fear for us all.

By eleven o’clock we were both out in the garden; DH on ditch clearing duty (though he was under strict orders to only clear a small part of it – mud is heavy when you have to heave it out of a ditch to higher ground, and myself….I knuckled down to weeding the trellis border.

We have a new neighbour in place now on the other side of our trellis in a touring sized van, much shorter than Eric’s static van so our plants in the border are not quite so sheltered from the sea wind and have wind burn.

When the clematis comes out we don’t see the caravan though we had specially left a little window in the planting so Eric could sit out in the sunshine and wave to us.

This is a picture from last year with Erics van behind the trellis and his little peephole. You can see the beautiful Montana clematis that grew up and over the trellis but was so ‘kindly’ hacked down this winter on the otherside by the new site owner… AKA Machete Man.

So now we are left with this a lifeless bunch of stems as they have been cut down at low level on the other side of the trellis and the top part here of intertwining stems are quite dead.

The winter has taken its toll all around the garden this year; the north westerly winds and salt spray from the sea has burnt many of the shrubs and it will take a while before we know what will spring back to life. As the snowdrops are fading away the daffodils are in full bloom, scattered around the garden creating little splashes of colour. The new bulbs, tulips and narcissi, I planted last autumn have all been dug up and eaten by the rabbits…. apparently daffodils are not to their liking and so have been spared.

Everywhere there are little signs of plants waking up and the springtime flowers about to emerge.

My spirits as ever were lifted as my little friendly Robin bibbed and bobbed around me with such a warm welcome back. He had polished off all the food we had left him on our last visit and was eager to follow me about visiting each newly dug patch of earth for worms.

We are eating well here at the caravan and choosing hob based meals to save on the Calor gas. Our only oven meal so far was the nut roast which I brought with us cooked, but frozen and I could have chosen to reheat it in the microwave but I had left over parsnips to use up from the fridge at home and not wanting to waste them I had to put the oven on to roast them…note to self not to buy parsnips when we are about to come up to the caravan.

I needed tomato paste at the caravan because at home we buy it in a jar, then spoon it out into ice cube trays and freeze it. I usually buy those tiny pots to use in the caravan as they keep well but couldn’t find any on the shelves – luckily in the little Sainsbury’s at Newton Stewart on our way here these little cans were on clearance at only 8p each. Another bargain.

Today the winds are not settling – DH has braved the weather to dig out another few feet of ditch (this carries the rain water that drains down through the upper wood across to the burn). It gets rather clogged up with the fallen leaves from the trees and the resulting mud has to be cleared every so many years. I am not venturing out but instead will be catching up with some reading and making notes on some cost cutting ideas for when we return home.

I may even get my paint box out. X

dear diary >> unsettling times…

Having just got back home after our recent trip up to North Yorkshire to visit mum then my daughter and the two grandchildren Little L and Sweetie we unpacked, washed, shopped and then repacked and I am now writing this from Scotland…it may even be published this time, I have written a few posts recently but then never pressed go and they remain on my drafts list incomplete. Like many other bloggers the recent invasion of Ukraine has left me lost for words, scratching around in the dark looking to find a chink of light that will help me make sense of the world right now. This is a photo taken on the Pennine Moors above us in Yorkshire of the sunset the other evening – it is such a peaceful place – and probably a stark contrast at the moment to the ruins of some of the Ukraine cities – I stood gazing at this for ages and couldn’t help wondering what might the future be for our world.

And how, I keep wondering, can one man cause so much suffering, so much bloodshed and so much heartache and what are we going to wake up to next in the morning?

After the last two years of Covid and restrictions and a feeling of uncertainty I think we were all hoping for a better 2022, and now as spring and the promise of better weather are almost within our grasp, at last….it seems our hopes are fading fast.

Life is so unsettling at the moment and all the problems that have been gathering around me at quite a pace over the last few months have now paled into insignificance compared with those faced by the people of Ukraine…but each day I wake up they are still there and ignoring them is not making them either go away or any easier to sort out.

Mum is becoming quite hard work for my sister and one of the team of carers who go in on alternate days has refused to go. She was mum’s favourite but sometimes mum has been quite nasty with her. At 96 she now feels she has the right to speak her mind, but often what is in her mind is not endearing her to the people who are trying to help her. I can understand mum’s frustration at losing her mobility and being practically housebound but the other residents in the apartments are finding her hardwork and avoid going to see her leaving her more isolated than ever. I ring her each evening, we will have the same conversation many times over, usually she has to establish if we are at home or in Scotland and when we will next be going to see her, after only a few minutes she will have forgotten what I said and will ask me again and so it goes on for the next 40 minutes. To make matters worse she has a habit of holding the phone upside down so I cannot hear her properly but that is not quite so bad as when part way through our call she sometimes switches to trying to talk to me on the TV remote and I can hear her saying ‘can you hear me’! I cannot see there is any solution.

Sadly, it has also got to the point now where we dread coming up to our cottage, wondering what we will find this time, what changes await us. Joe and his wife are here at the moment in the remaining caravan on the little site below us, the light was on when we arrived last night and it felt quite comforting to see an old face and have a neighbour. The caravaners were our friends and now they are almost all gone. Thankfully Joe has no plans to leave at the moment.

There must have been an excess of rain up here because the roads had large pools of water along the verges. The tarmac lane from the main road down to our cottage eventually comes to an end and then we have to drive over a wide strip of grass just outside our property to reach our hardstanding by the garage, (the lane and grass belong to the caravan site owner – we have right of access over it). We could see that the grass was soddened and so parked at the end of the lane and walked over the grass on foot to unpack the car – it took us ages squelching about in the mud…..I might have uttered a few choice words at the time. I cannot ever remember in all the time we have been coming here that the grassy bit was this bad or this waterlogged. Once unpacked we moved the car onto a patch of gravel on the other side of the lane so it won’t get stuck in the mud. It is not actually our land and no doubt the new owner won’t like it but the other option is that we will churn up his grass trying to get in and out of our property.

We have two sizeable farm gates at the entrance to our little cottage and just before we left for home on our last visit the gate post of the left hand one had rotted and sheered off at ground level and toppled over bringing the gate down with it. All DH could do at the time was to prop the gate back in place but the wind must have blown it over. Of course it is another job on the list – I am not sure if it has even made it on to the top ten of urgent things, but it must be close. The new caravan site owner did send us a text to let us know – it seemed a neighbourly thing to do but then on the end of the text he asked if we would consider letting him have a part of our woodland for his business! I probably don’t have to tell you what our answer is to that.

The lady who came once a fortnight to cut our grass has given us notice because her knees are so painful and swollen the doctor told her that to continue would certainly make them worse. So we have to find someone new…it will go on the list….the list is getting too long for comfort…I keep folding it in half so I don’t have to look at all of it at once….but I am not sure it really helps.

No doubt we will weather these storms – all we can do is carry on trying to cope with the problems as they come up.

In and amongst, like most of you, I am trying to find a way through these rising prices but if through sanctions, my gas, electricity and fuel has to rise even more to help the Ukraine people then so be it, if the price of some foods like flour and oil becomes too costly to buy or too scarce then I will put up with that too…I am willing to make sacrifices if it will help to stop this ridiculous war.

So I am spending quite a bit of time roaming the aisles of the supermarket gathering up any reduced priced items that we normally buy, using the Smartscan and Clubcard offers and collecting reward points (though these may well be donated to the Ukraine crisis fund). We are using the oven as little as possible and making most of our meals on the hob. We have decided there a few things we can give up or buy cheaper and somethings we will not be buying at all if I can make them.

I am reluctant to stop buying as much fresh fruit and veg – it is the staple of our diet and as you know I buy mainly organic to support the farmers who are growing sustainably. We make our own soup each day using veg that is on offer or needs using up. When the oven is on I have batch baked pastry cases and sponge cakes for the freezer, in fact the freezer is groaning

This week I made this farmhouse fruit cake to take with us to the cottage. Using a very old Stork margerine recipe (so old the ingredients are only in pounds and ounces and the oven temp in Fahrenheit) I was able to use up all the left over bits of dried fruit from when I made the Christmas cake, although I no longer use block margerine like Stork prefering instead to use the Pure dairy free olive oil spread free from nasties.

I figured the best way to cut our spending is to not go shopping at all other than for food or necessities and that way I am not tempted to buy things I don’t really need.

I have been shopping though.

I needed to buy a new bedsheet – I only have two (one on the bed, one in the wash) and one on the guest bed (not that we have had any guests for a long time!). DH woke up one morning to find a rip in the sheet almost the full length of the bed, it had worn quite thin over time and there was no way I could repair it. We also need to replace the wooden blind in our living room. As we have some John Lewis vouchers we headed over to Cheadle branch have a quick look at theirs. The ready made blind we wanted is now discontinued and their made to measure ones are too costly for our budget. We tried a few other places and have seen one in B&Q which we have put on standby. Because of the size and shape of our window we have to remove at least a third of the slats of the ready made ones as they come as a standard 180cm length; DH is not at all phased by the alterations needed – he ‘cut to fit’ the one we presently have but we are seriously looking at having a made to measure one through Swift blinds who just happen to operate their business only a few miles away from us and their prices are quite reasonable.

The fitted bed sheet was easier to find and I just bought an ordinary white one from their Anyday range which is £13 and good quality. On the way out I passed the clearance section and spotted this double cotton duvet set. It was the remaining one of last summer’s range and was marked half price (£32.50 originally £65) so quite a bargain and good quality. The colour will go well in our main bedroom – when it is decorated that is – and although I don’t normally buy florals I do like the Scandi style print on this. The coupons we had covered both purchases so they costs me nothing.

Having a John Lewis / Waitrose reward card meant that by taking 5 empty beauty products that can be recycled (any make) I could have £5 off any beauty product purchase. This offer is not continuous but keeps coming round so that I am able to take advantage of it and buy the Liz Earle shampoo and conditioner that I use when I need one and although they have just had another price rise to £13 each (ouch) it meant I only had to pay £8.

So that was my shopping expedition for this month and probably all I will be buying other than food. I have been busy making and baking and when I get back home I will be sowing seeds ready for growing a few bedding plants for the planters and this year I will probably grow tomatoes, courgettes, potatoes and some salad leaves to eek out the food bill.

Well I will leave you all here and maybe even manage a couple of posts from Scotland. The cottage garden is just waking up and I can’t wait to get out there to tidy up a bit. x

dear diary >> in the craft room

Finished at last!

The little dress for Sweetie with a knitted top and soft printed baby corduroy for the skirt. I hadn’t been able to find a pattern in the shops or online that had a knitted bodice and fabric skirt and then I came across this little book in The Works.

I had to alter it a bit at the back to make it a fastening bodice (the back bodice on the pattern is in one piece and slips over the head – but I wasn’t sure it was going to be easy to do that so split the bodice into two halves and added a button and buttonhole band. The sleeve head too didn’t work out with their instructions but I managed to rectify this by decreasing on every other row which in effect made the sleeve head longer and fit the armhole better.

With the gloomy weather I have been struggling to do the hand sewing to finish the dress. At first it was meant for her birthday last November, but that didn’t happen. Never mind, I thought, I will finish it and give it to her for Christmas……but then we had to go and attend to the cottage roof unexpectedly and the dress had to be put on one side. This week has been the first opportunity to get back to it.

Yesterday we picked up the table and chairs, it was a fine sunny day which helped, and amazingly all the packages fit into the car with just enough room to spare for a couple of small Ikea purchases (for more improvements which I will mention another time). DH assembled the table and unboxed all the chairs. This morning we put our old pine farmhouse table into the boot of the car and took it round to my brothers house. He already has some very nice farmhouse style chairs so our old chairs will go to whoever would like them, we will try the local charities and maybe Facebook Marketplace. We have had them for 45 years and we didn’t buy them in the first place they were left for us in the first house we bought. In fact I have never had any new dining chairs so it was nice to be able to choose my own. The ones we had have served us well though and been recovered a number of times over the years to match our changing decor.

Everything seemed to be going well, even my daughter’s problem that she informed us about in an urgent phone call on Monday has resolved, but then we hit another car problem in addition to the automatic brake not kicking in when it should and the engine warning light coming on after going through every little puddle (unavoidable at the moment with all this rain). Today DH went to refill the screen wash in his car. At first he struggled to get the bonnet to open….once open he put in the screen wash but then couldn’t get the bonnet to fasten properly no matter what he did! He phoned our usual garage but he is really busy and can’t even look at it until Monday when we will be in North Yorkshire visiting mum and daughter. DH had no option other than to have another look at it himself and eventually after a few more attempts managed to get it closed but it will need some attention and maybe a new catch. Presumably the nice garage man will add it to the list!

I keep feeling really ‘off colour’ at the moment…it could be stress…too many problems bombarding us! I need a few days of calm.

dear diary :: February already?

Hello everyone.  How are you all – I have missed you, it has been a long time and life here has been no less frantic than when I abruptly abandoned my blog?  Of course every day I have intended to write a post….but we all know what we intend to do and then what we actually do can be quite different.

For those regular readers you will remember I had to make a hasty departure up to Scotland during the Christmas advent to survey the storm damage to the cottage.  The wind had taken the felt, on the flat roof kitchen extension, clean off and we had to find someone to come and re-roof just before Christmas and you can imagine the long list of people in the area waiting for a roofer to do repairs for them – so many properties affected.  If this aggressive weather is not due to climate change then I don’t know why it is getting progressively wilder.

Roof sorted, we returned home just in time to sort out Christmas. 

And with a long list of to do’s I set about completing the Christmas plans.  It seems an age ago now.

I had cards to finish making, writing and posting, presents to wrap and some for my friends still to make – this year I chose to make Florentines and found some pretty wooden bowls by Habitat to put them in. I had to make them the day before Christmas Eve so they were nice and fresh.

We had very simple decorations this year no more than the mantelpiece and a bowl of dried orange slices and we never did buy a tree; by the time we came back from Scotland there were only a few days before we were setting out to go up to my daughter’s house for Christmas and buying and decorating a tree for two days of pleasure seemed a little ridiculous.

Our wider family all got together for the first time in goodness knows how long for Christmas Day at my sister’s house (she has now got the most room) and we tried hard to keep it a secret from my mum just in case someone caught the virus beforehand and we couldn’t go. It was hard to surprise my mum as each day when I rang her she would say ‘don’t you know what you are doing for Christmas yet?’ and I would always reply ‘ no as we are not sure if we will be locked down’.

The grandchildren all had the most wonderful time and my mum was so happy to see us all.

I iced the Christmas cake so the three grandchildren could have fun decorating it all by themselves with some little figures and sprinkles. And they made a good job too it was quite delightful though I think most of the sprinkles were eaten before they got anywhere near the cake.

We all managed to dodge the Covid virus but DH and I did come down with a cold / flu virus the day after Boxing Day, as did my brother and little Sweetie.  Why just the four of us out of a gathering of thirteen people we will never know. 

So that was our Christmas and thank you all for your lovely greetings and messages.

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Meanwhile January has been spent catching up with myself and planning.  It is always a job I look forward to as the New Year begins and listing everything down tells me we have more plans than time.  Nothing changes!

My focus word for this year is Improvement.

I intend to improve one area of my life each month – everything from health to wealth, two of the areas which need a good overhaul.  Some areas do overlap and once I make an improvement I will obviously have to review and keep it going in the coming months….that is probably the harder part.

January is always a busy time here with birthdays. One of my oldest friends reached the grand age of 80, though she doesn’t look it, so I had cards to make. I was a bit stuck for ideas but settled on this one using up scraps of fabric.

My mum reached the even grander age of 96 and we had a trip up to see her and take her a chocolate sponge cake with fresh cream inside and chocolate on top, her favourite.

Little Freddie celebrated his 3rd birthday and I organised a little tea party for him at home with a jungle theme. It was mainly immediate family – my two daughter’s and their partners and his two cousins, Little L and Sweetie who came and they helped him unwrap the presents, play party games and eat the party food. Sweetie, who is almost the same age as Freddie could hardly wait to play with all his new toys and as soon as they were unwrapped and admired and he had moved on to the next one she would edge nearer and nearer to try them out for herself, hoping no-one would notice!!

We had so much fun making these party hats from Tesco – I can certainly recommend them. They were easy to decorate even for the little ones – each person chooses some eyes, ears and a mouth from a selection to stick on and create your own little character.

I made a jungle cake which again was super easy with some little jungle animals and dessicated coconut dyed green with food colouring. The log effect around the outside of the cake was created with some chocolate coated wafer biscuits sliced in half and stuck on with melted chocolate – it saved me mixing up some buttercream for the sides.

I found some jungle animal and foliage pictures on the internet to print out and stick onto card for decorations and to stick on the front of each party bag with their names (which I have obscured). The party bags contained a few chocolate coins, and other jungly bits and bobs and these cute little hand puppets peeping over the top I discovered in Poundland (£2 each and made from recycled bottles) and they were a big hit.

Currently we are back in Scotland enjoying a break for a few days.  There are improvements to be made here at the cottage, weather permitting and if the weather is bad then it is the perfect place to sit and do some more planning. But I will tell you more about that another day.

Bye for now x

creating Christmas * day 10…the Christmas card

This should have been a post about our Christmas outing to Derbyshire but that had to be postponed for another day due to unforseen and unfortunate circumstances which I will tell you about later. So today instead of going out I stayed in and put the filling into the cake for my younger daughter’s 40th birthday (which is on Monday but we are celebrating it tomorrow) and mixed the buttercream for the coating. Then while there was a smidgen of light left I started making my Christmas cards.

Well better late than never!

Each year I try and produce a few of my own Christmas cards – they vary from year to year, different sizes, different medium, different designs. Many readers will have seen previous cards I have made and anyone interested can search my blog under the Creating Christmas link in the sidebar or in the menu above.

Sometimes I want to try out a few new ideas that I have and sometimes I have a very definite idea of what I want to do.

This year because of time pressures I have produced a very simple lino cut print of mistletoe from a few sketches I did 2 years ago.

It is still in the development stage – testing the design for unwanted marks and the colour. My initial print was a bit too much lime green so I added first some white (too wishywashy) and then tried again with a little Prussian blue to tone it down.

Much better. Currently I am debating the wording; if I decide to use any wording it will be stamped on afterwards as cutting out the ‘mistletoe‘ wording, as I had on the original design sketch above, has to be cut out backwards on a lino print which is an art in itself and I really don’t have the time.

So this is my progress so far. It is meant to have that home made look that is one of the qualities of a lino cut. Sorry about the awful light it goes dark so quickly these days but you will get the gist.

Hopefuly I will get them all printed tomorrow – I find lino cuts are a good way to do a mass production.

It has been a turbulent week for us so far and one where I am left wondering if anything else can happen.

To summarise briefly my mum is not a happy bunny at the moment and so my daily calls are a bit fraught trying to keep her cheerful, one of our relations in Scotland has sadly died and there will be a funeral next Thursday, decorating the cake I have made for my daughter’s birthday has proved a bit of a challenge time wise (will I ever learn), then the icing on the cake (not my daughter’s as I have still to do that)….is that we received a call from a friend in Scotland in the same village as our cottage to tell us the recent storm was horrendous and the waves along the shore have been so high and so powerful part of the harbour wall and other concrete sea defences have been taken out, the surface of the main road broken into pieces, and some nearby wooden holiday chalets at Ardwell village flooded out….and…wait for it….. the wind has completely ripped off the felt on our flat roof kitchen extension (oh dear, here we go again).

We hadn’t planned to go up to Scotland so close to Christmas but we will have to now and I have had to rearrange hair appointments next week and other planned tasks and DH has been on the phone all day trying to find a roofer who can come and replace the felt; but of course they are all busy repairing all the storm damaged roofs in the area.

To add to our problems all week I have been having dizzy spells (such a lot of tension in my neck) …not surprising. Our Christmas plans will be on hold for a while and what gets done will and otherwise I am not going to worry (too much) but I think we will be lucky if we get our Christmas tree now!!

So for any readers following along with my creating Christmas I may go quiet for a day or two as my advent blogging is interupted, but hopefully not for long.

I am going for my tea now and then have another go at getting the cake decorated if the phone manages to stay quiet for an hour or two and there is no further bad news.

I really fancy going for a lie down in a darkened room.

back soon x

dear diary :: the end of November

The last day in November and then December is upon us and the urgency to get Christmas organised begins.  I had intended having much more ‘done’ towards Christmas this year but somehow life has managed to get in the way.

No matter it will be low key this year and it is often the time running up to Christmas that gives as much pleasure as the day itself – it really has become a season over the years.  I love the evocative smells throughout this time – the fragrant spices of cinnamon and citrus fruits wafting through the air, the smell of the Christmas cake baking in the oven and the scent of the real fir tree when it is brought indoors.

When I was little the Christmas tree was brought home by dad on Christmas Eve and we decorated it before we went to bed, whilst mum was in the kitchen preparing trifles and vegetables for the next day.  As I got older the tree was bought earlier and earlier (never earlier than the week before though) then it became an artificial one, but my memory will always be of the anticipation of dad arriving home from work on Christmas Eve and throwing open the back door complete with tree in hand. Magical.

I am wondering already what to put on my Not so Secret Santa wish list.   I am thinking perhaps books – I have on my ‘books I would like to read list’ a number of titles by Persephone books and they are not altogether cheap. A few weeks ago I looked at the lovely ADVENT book in Waterstones, also on my list; hardback and full of stunning photography but there was actually little I would make from it so I decided to cross it off the list as it would be for the gorgeousness more than the content and I am going to be ruthless next year about not buying things that I really don’t need more of. As I have been decluttering more of our stuff recently and intend to do even more in the coming new year I am loving all the extra space I have gained and don’t wish to lose this again by introducing more things I don’t really need.

Looking over last year’s list I found I had asked for various goodies from Neal’s Yard, a mini solar fountain, the box set of Cranford DVDs and some king sized Victorian cloches for the garden.

I have a fancy for putting down the mini solar fountain again for my little blue ceramic dish that I fill with water, as that is something I didn’t receive.  My one concern is a) it is plastic and b) I don’t really need it – I just think they look quite nice.

Or perhaps I will go with a treat – a craft workshop session or a token for a relaxing massage or facial although booking for things in advance at the moment with the appearance of the new variant, does put that into question again.

To be honest there is not a lot I actually need or want but one of the things I would love most to add to my list is TIME – we seem to give plenty away but sadly it is not something you can buy!

We will be leaving Scotland and the beach behind today and probably won’t be back now until January so our temporary caravan will have to be drained down and made winter proof for the meantime. I was disappointed that the Christmas decorations in Stranraer are not switched on yet (and some not actually put up yet) it will happen sometime this week when we are not here. Castle Douglas, the little town we drive through on the way back, is looking very Christmassy and I hope when we stop there for our tea I can capture a few snapshots of the shop windows and maybe, if we are in time, browse a few of the little independent shops.

dear diary :: blowin’ a ‘hoolie’….

It’s been a while I know, and one of the reasons I am writing this post is because we are in our safe haven, our little sanctuary in Scotland…far from the pressures of normal daily life at home.

It has been, as usual, a busy few weeks coming and going to see mum and helping out our daughter with childcare in North Yorkshire and our elder daughter at home.  On the last visit to mum and younger daughter we stayed at my sister’s glam home near my mum’s; it is spacious and beautifully decorated and situated in a lovely little village, I could easily live there myself – apart from the fact that we wouldn’t have the money to even buy a one bedroomed cottage there.  The house price difference between West and North Yorkshire is huge.  Still one can dream.

We celebrated little Sweetie’s third birthday – a small family party at her home – she has spent a third of her tiny life so far in lockdown, at home with mum, the local toddler groups being closed, so has few friends. Her cousin little Freddie and his mum and dad joined us for the day and after playing games and opening presents we all went to the local fish and chip restaurant in Thirsk and had the extended side room to ourselves which was nice.  Being vegetarians we had chips, beans and battered mushrooms – veggie burgers are on the menu but we are not keen of them.

I made the cake – it was the usual disaster.  Sprinkles had been requested so it should have been simple enough but the buttercream had far too much air in it so didn’t go on quite as smoothly as I would have liked and the white chocolate dribbles didn’t dribble quite where intended.  Of course I did it in a rush too, but little Sweetie loved it.

As I predicted the dress did not get finished in time so it will be a Christmas present. Since this picture I have finished the knitting and tacked the skirt to the bodice and all is looking good. The sleeves which if you remember I had to try and alter myself did work out perfectly in the end by only decreasing on the knit rows and not every row as the pattern said.

Mum has been taken to Leeds for the weekend by my sister and her husband (he is able to lift her in and out of the car as she doesn’t have the muscle strength herself to get out).  They are staying at a new hotel just outside Leeds ( she will have one of the disabled rooms to help her get about easily) and from there they will go to John Lewis in the centre so she can see all the Christmassy things.  She cannot come down to stay with us any longer because of the stairs so there is a big hole now for her at this time of year that needs to be filled, as we would take her Christmas shopping and have a trip into Derbyshire to Tissington and Ashbourne.

So whilst mum was being attended to we made our escape to Scotland.  We were met with the bad weather – blowin’ a raging ‘hoolie’ all night; our caravan rocking in the frequent strong gusts but luckily no trees down like the gales of 2010 that took ten large pine trees down in our cottage garden.

It is cosy warm in our temporary caravan as we are lucky enough to have double glazing and central heating but yesterday it was a scramble to get Calor Gas – there is a shortage and our usual stockist in Stranraer sold us one that had the wrong connection so we had to drive the 17 miles back to town to return it.  She was apologetic as they didn’t have the one we needed and we had to take back the empty bottle so that we could try elsewhere, as at the moment you can only buy a new Calor gas bottle by returning an empty one.

We were lucky and found the local shop in a village on the way to town had one left.  It was cheaper by a £1 and much more convenient so we will continue to buy the gas there in future.  So at least some good came out of a tricky situation.

It was the same with the major power cut we had on our last visit to the cottage and we were rejoicing that, although unfortunate at the time, it happened back then and the fault repaired because it would surely have gone in this last storm and it would have taken longer for the power team to get to us with so many people being affected with the wind.  The local garden centre had no power because of a fallen tree and they had been plunged into darkness, could only take cash and the café had to be closed.  We had trees down across the main road and for a time would have been captive on the peninsula as there is only one road back to town down here on the Mull, however it was cleared very quickly, probably by local farmers.

We only have a few days here and I have a little pile of ‘bits’ to look at, financial papers, a bit of knitting, making Christmas plans and catching up with some reading.  I finished The Winter Children – not really my kind of read but I persevered not wanting to abandon it. I have just read Christmas at Thrush Green by Miss Read again – always a favourite at this time of year – there is something so calming about her books where the lives of the villagers seemingly have order and sequence to them like the natural world and busyness is not a word that takes over.

I did the live family Not so Secret Santa draw from the caravan – so we all know who is buying for who now.  I am buying for my eldest daughter, whist DH is buying for my mum, my BIL is buying a gift for me and my brother is buying a gift for DH and so it goes on all around the family each person only buying one gift for another. 

We switched to the Secret Santa a few years ago now as the mammoth buying sessions had got out of hand as our family expanded.  No-one knew what to buy for each other and we ended up with a house full of gifts we didn’t really want and opening all those presents from one another meant there was little time to play games and have fun.

Our version is not so secret…hence the title.  Each person can provide a list of up to ten wishes of things they would like as a gift to the person who is to buy for them (which is different each year – hence the draw).  You can be as specific as you like or opt for a surprise gift or a gift token, (tokens are very popular with my brother and mum).  The gift or combination of gifts must only amount to £25 per person – it used to be £50, but has been reduced to £25 now (reflecting the fact more of us are on pensions or lower incomes). 

Because you list ten items the actual gift or gifts you get is still a surprise as you don’t know which one the buyer might choose to get.  If they are lucky and get your gift(s) discounted then to keep it fair they still have to use the whole £25, the difference cannot be pocketed by the buyer.  Everyone buys for the children as normal; they are not included in the Secret Santa.  It has been a great success and we would not go back.  It has cut down on all the tramping around shops looking for ideas and the expense of parking that goes with it.  And it leaves more time to enjoy the Christmas events that are put on everywhere.  This year we are going to the light show at Temple Newsam.

I still buy little things for my friends or make them as they very much like the homemade craft items.

In normal times and because not all of us could be together on Christmas Day we would have a big family gathering just before Christmas to swap our Secret Santa presents (but not open them).  You try disguising the fact you have bought an ironing board or wheelbarrow in wrapping paper!  We would often use the pub/restaurant where my daughter worked to meet and have sandwiches and home-made chips laid on with mince pies for afters and wear our best santa hats and jumpers of course.

We would play games (this is some of us below playing the guess who I am game)…

and have our musical interlude (whistle blowing and handbell ringing) …..and generally have a fun time. 

Because of Covid we had to have a Zoom party last year and pass presents on as best we could.  This year most of us are going to my sisters for Christmas Day, Covid allowing, so we won’t be meeting beforehand.

I am just starting now on crafting our Christmas – a simpler Christmas like last year, maybe even more so. I will try and keep you all updated as, throughout the run up to Christmas, I make cards and goodies, decorate the house and attend events.

Hope all is well with everyone – time allowing I keep dibbing in and out of the blogs I read to keep up with your news and occasionally I might even get to leave a comment.

Back soon x

dear diary : November already

“How silently they tumble down
And come to rest upon the ground
To lay a carpet, rich and rare,
Beneath the trees without a care,
Content to sleep, their work well done,
Colors gleaming in the sun.

At other times, they wildly fly
Until they nearly reach the sky.
Twisting, turning through the air
Till all the trees stand stark and bare.
Exhausted, drop to earth below
To wait, like children, for the snow.”

–   Elsie N. Brady, Leaves

Can you believe it is November already? As I look outside the very last of the leaves are clinging to my Amelanchier, the rest having been brought down quickly with the wind and rainfall over the past few days. The bare trees everywhere are a sure sign that I need to get a move on now and start on the Christmas plans.

I seem to have spent last week and the weekend pottering, but slowly getting a few jobs done around the house. Maybe not what I had intended to do but nevertheless there has been a satisfying tick made at the end of the day on one or two tasks, many of which have possibly rolled over from last month.

I have more or less caught up with the washing and ironing. I know it is always an ongoing household chore but when we return from the cottage there is quite a heap of bedding and dirty gardening clothes to wade through on top of the general clothes. Presently, I have a large bucket with our socks soaking in it ready to wash in the washer tomorrow. I know the washer does a pre-wash but it takes so much more water and time when an overnight soak will do the same and in less water. Then I have the remaining gardening clothes and I might wash the cushion covers from the living room and I am done.

I have also been sorting as I tidied. I don’t know about you but I often end up with ‘things’ upstairs that belong downstairs and vice versa, or have items waiting to be put away – so I stop and have a bit of a putting away session, getting everything back to its rightful place. Whilst I was in a drawer or cupboard putting away I had a quick check to see if I could spot anything that I do not use or was in the wrong place or could be slimmed down to make more space. And I did.

They were mostly just little things like some very old blank cassette tapes that we would no longer use and some TV recordings on DVD’s that we can no longer watch. Every little adjustment lightens the load in my quest to minimise our stuff and what a difference it makes to the space once they have been removed.

I had been keeping six empty 2lb glass jam jars that once had mincemeat in and I reused them as storage containers for rice and couscous (I now use the larger kilner style clip jars in the pantry and I am happy with them). They took up quite a bit of valuable shelf space in the utility cupboard and as I could not think of a use for them I decided to let them go or maybe I will use them in the garage. So now I can get all my small empty jam jars that I do use and are waiting for the lemon curd at Christmas and maybe marmalade in January on the one top shelf.

As I have been pottering about I have been noticing just how many of the things we have are either used a lot, used infrequently or sometimes not at all. As far as I can see the ‘not at all group‘ fall into three categories

  • not used and probably never will be,
  • not used but would if time allowed
  • not used but are of some sentimental value still.

Of the ‘not used and probably never will be’ group are a number of items that were gifts from friends….unfortunately gifts not quite to my taste, but I keep them because someone took the time to buy them for me. After a while I will take them off view and put them away in a drawer. Some of the toiletries, smellies and things I just don’t use I will sometimes pass onto other people but it seems an ongoing exercise and makes me feel quite ungrateful. I try to address this when I buy gifts for other people by buying flowers, book tokens or something like food that will not add to their decluttering.

Of the ‘not used but would if time allowed’ I really must make the effort to address this. I have knitting patterns in the waiting, sewing projects on the go, music CD’s that I haven’t listened to in ages and audio books ditto….I could go on but you get the gist – I am sure you have the same.

Of the ‘not used but I am setimentally attached to’ I sometimes feel there is no hope – I know I am a sentimental person and once in a while when we are together with my daughters we will get out the old projector and have a good laugh at the old slides going back to my younger days in the 50’s or I will get out one of the memory boxes (yes I have more than one) that hold such delights as an old mobile phone and my grandad’s first driving license that provide us with hours of entertainment. I do love to hang onto such treasures and they could never be replaced.

But then there is the stuff that I buy myself… you know the everyday temptations in the cheaper shops, especially around Christmas time – another Christmas jumper, the odd book from The Works, a few crafty bits from Hobbycraft, things I think I need from Home Bargains (but don’t really) and not to mention IKEA, and within a couple of years what was a must have becomes yet another thing to declutter and hit the charity pile…the cheap Christmas jumper full of bobbles, the book on the shelf unread, the crafty bits still in bits and a load of things that were just not that needed after all.

So next year it is going to be my year of limited and mindful spending. I can’t say it will be no spending, as currently we are decorating through the house, but I aim to make anything I buy and anything that comes into the house much more considered- I no longer want heaps of stuff around me and I certainly don’t want to spend the rest of my life decluttering.

A while ago I received a 20% online discount for Neal’s Yard and ordered my usual face cream and serum – probably my one and only indulgence – and as a birthday present from DH I took up the offer of the Heritage Beauty Box (worth £125) for only £25. I must say it was worth it just to receive such a beautifully packaged gift – with all those individually wrapped goodies inside – and every bit is recyclable.

I will use all these products and the mass of gorgeous tissue paper has been ironed out and stored in my tissue paper box for future use.

At the moment I am reading two books. The one on the left Cut and Dry, borrowed from the local library (and I will be very sorry to lose it when I have to take it back), is full of ideas for dried flower arrangements around the house. I do love having dried hydrangea and seed heads at this time of year and a scattering of leaves.

I bought the other book The Winter Children at a charity coffee morning pre-pandemic and couldn’t get into it the first time round and after a few pages I lost interest and read something else. On my ‘sort out and sort through’ days last week I noticed it in the little stack of books on the bedside table in the guest room. I decided as part of my reading through what I already have challenge to either read it or pass it on.

So I will give it another go as I have just finished The View from the Corner Shop by Kathleen Hey. She was one of the diarists taking part in the Mass Observation project during the second world war and her daily diary from a shopkeeper’s perspective gave a really good insight into how the local people in nearby Dewsbury lived during the war, where attacks were so infrequent that at times they wondered if there was a war going on. An interesting contrast to the daily life not that far away in Sheffield where I grew up (Sheffield being very much under attack because of the steel works) and where many of my own family were left homeless after being bombed out.

Amongst all the tidying and sorting I am managing to squeeze in a little knitting time and the part knitted part fabric dress for little Sweetie is coming along – the front, left back and one sleeve all completed. The sleeve head is not right though (too small for the armhole despite following the pattern to the letter and checking it a number of times) and I will have to adjust this when I knit the other sleeve.

Being a novice knitter the only way forward I can see would be to do a decrease for the sleeve head shaping on every other row rather than every row as the pattern says which I think whould increase the depth. Unless of course any of you brilliant knitters out there can advise me differently.

I found this lovely lightweight soft printed corduroy for the skirt part in Boyes and it was discounted too. Sweetie’s birthday is on the 10th so I need to get my skates on a bit. Alternatively I could give it to her for Christmas and hope she doesn’t grow too much.

It is always a constant aim of mine to try a new recipe at least once a week where time allows. This week I chose this recipe Spiced Pear and Stilton tarts with Watercress. I had to adapt it slightly as DH is not over keen on Stilton so I used some rather lovely Shropshire Red that I had bought on one of the Sainsbury’s Smartshop scan offers. I love using pears in cooking and so I bought one of the bags of small mixed pears and intend to use what is left for a pear and ginger pudding.

Then this morning surprise, surprise… my rather soggy December issue of Country Living dropped through the letterbox and being so eager to see what was inside I stopped immediately to take a tea break.

dear diary :: here and there…

Hello everyone….I know I have been a little quiet in the last few days, but life here is as hectic as ever. 

We had one of those crazy weekends (two weekends ago now) starting on the Friday taking our grandson little Freddie to the park for a few hours.

He knows the routine well now – buy a 25p bag of duck food from the little cafe and go straight round to feed the ducks, then on to the fountain taking the short cut down the very steep grassy bank with grandad holding on to him for dear life, whilst I follow with the pushchair on the sensible windy path. We then walk round to the lovely revamped conservatory at the bottom of the park that has a cafe with an outdoor courtyard space – perfect to avoid Covid. We order tea (or coffee and Freddie has milk) and a couple of slices each of thick brown toast with butter and marmalade. Of course he always wants to spread the marmalade on himself even though it is tricky to handle the large knife ….ugh the stickiness.

We then saunter back through the park playing football until we reach the swings. This particular visit we saw a tight rope walker practising between two of the large park trees. Then it was back home to mum for Freddie and back home for us to start repacking ready for our next trip.

On Saturday we set off for North Yorkshire to meet my daughter and the two girls in Northallerton – one of my favourite market towns. We browsed all the shops on both sides of the main street plus the market stalls. The girls are always well behaved in shops and love to look at all that is on offer but never natter to be bought anything. I did in fact buy Sweetie some new shoes for her birthday in November but she is going to start wearing them now so her feet don’t grow out of them before she is three in a few weeks time; at this age, like little seedlings, they seem to grow overnight. She was delighted – they are a muted shade of pink with sparkly bits.

We stayed overnight with my daughter and had an early start on the Sunday morning to drive up to my sister’s village above Northallerton to see the Scarecrow trail which began at 10am. My sister was on her respite holiday so couldn’t be with us but she had baked some chocolate squares for the cake stall so we bought a piece each.

We had great fun spotting the scarecrows and eating the homemade cakes, though the chocolate topping fell clean off Little L’s piece onto the pavement. Here are just a few of our favourites.

Of course we had to stop Sweetie from helping herself to a banana!
The mole hunter made us smile!
Go compare
Paddington Bear – you can tell Sweetie is just eyeing up the marmalade sandwiches in the suitcase!
I just had to add this into the photos – I have never seen such a crop of mushrooms before on someone’s front lawn!

At 12 0’clock we said goodbye to Little L, Sweetie and my daughter and drove on another 10 miles to visit my mum (who is in an apartment near Yarm). For our lunch I had made a batch of leek and potato soup which we ate with some fresh rolls followed by a pizza and some pots of deli salads – coleslaw, beetroot and potato salad. I had not had time to make a pudding at home so I bought some fresh cream chocolate eclairs courtesy of Sainsbury’s. After lunch we had a long chat, did a few jobs, prepared some tea for her to have later and put her hair in rollers (she sleeps in them – always has) then said our goodbyes and drove home.

We arrived back quite late having been delayed on the M62 with the heavy traffic and felt quite worn out – I just put a few bits away and then went to bed.

On Monday morning we had to make the difficult and disappointing decision not to travel up to Scotland the next day to go and see Freda’s exhibition in Dunoon – given our comings and goings over the past few weeks it would have been a journey too far and I know my limitations.

So after a brief rest on Monday we spent most of the week table hunting…. which was long overdue.  We have a kitchen diner and when we had our new kitchen installed this time last year we enlarged the kitchen area by a few inches but this left the dining room side slightly smaller and our old and much loved pine farmhouse table no longer fits comfortably into the space. We knew this would be the case but gaining more circulation space in the kitchen has been well worth it and our farmhouse table is going to a good home.

After plodding around a few shops and searching on the internet we finally chose one we both liked and it is on order now with a 12 week lead time.   Our old table has quite a history as we bought it in 1979 just after we married and the children grew up painting and crafting on it, I have sewn and baked on it and I think it has even had hot pans on it.  We never really worried about having to protect it and just scrub it clean with soapy water – the many marks it has gained over time have just added to the well-used look.  It is essentially a kitchen table rather than a posh dining table so we ruled out glass tops or veneered wood for the new one as it would be impossible for us to have anything that isn’t robust enough to take whatever we or the grandchildren throw at it.  

The one we have chosen should fit the bill – it will be quite a change as the new table is quite modern looking (and won’t be to everyone’s taste) but will fit in better with the sleek simple lines of the new kitchen; it is also extendable so when the extra leaf is used it will come to the same size as our old one and when it is just the two of us there will be much more space to walk around it.   So now we just have to find a reasonable price for the chairs we have chosen and get them on order too.

Now that major task is a tick on the list and the weather not so suitable for gardening I have turned my attentions to the house and decided it needs a jolly good sort out….a major home edit and a good clean. 

Can’t wait to get stuck in.